When COVID hit, young adults in Boulder County, Colo. needed help completing their education and finding jobs.
Start the Young Leaders Academy to help them get to the next level.
When the pandemic hit, Boulder County, Colo. decided to use funding from the CARES Act to help provide the stepping stones necessary for young people in their community to get from education to career.
A two-department collaboration, between the Community Action Partners (CAP), under the Community Services Department and Workforce Boulder County, got the concept off the ground, according to Belinda Hearn, who coordinates the county’s PERL program, which stands for People Engaged in Raising Leaders.
“We got a grant at the end of 2020 and started in 2021 and came up with this idea – in the 16 to 24 year age bracket, to get them connected to training and education,” she said. “When COVID hit, no one was thinking about this age group.”
They called it the Young Leaders Academy. The program was created to cultivate BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) future leaders and entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds. YLA creates a pipeline of diverse talent to a variety of sectors across Boulder County while having positive future economic implications, and academic, and health-related outcomes for its BIPOC youth participants.
“We got the funding in the fall of 2020, hired for the position and got started in winter of 2021,” Hearn noted. “The program manager wrote a grant and when the grant came in, we collaborated with Workforce Boulder County.”
The program and funding were used to motivate young people to take steps toward completing their educations, each one of them making a four-month commitment to the program.
The program came with a stipend of $7,000 to help support their educational development at either a four-year college, technical college or for certifications as well as help them meet their employment and leadership goals. The program included six weeks of interactive, engaging workshops.
“Each week we offered something different: Interviewing, budgeting, resume writing, interpersonal skills and more,” Hearn said. Participants also received a $500 stipend for completing 80 percent of the workshops.
Each participant could take part in paid internships, occupational skills training (certifications, license or degree) or a high school equivalency diploma.
“And what was so cool about this, everything was done on Zoom,” Hearn said.
And for those who may not have had the resources, such as a laptop or Internet service? “Those things were provided, we helped them get a laptop and Internet service; if they didn’t have those things, we could provide it.”
Broken down into three cohorts, each cohort lasted six weeks. A typical week would be a meeting on Zoom for an hour to an hour-and-a-half. Students also spent time interacting with a case manager, checking in to see how things were going.
“We had a celebration during the second week in June, to celebrate all the candidates who graduated from YLA,” Hearn said. It was the first time they had all met in person.
Hearn said they measure the program’s success “by what they achieved – 90 percent went on to complete their education, a couple graduated from four-year colleges, some are gainfully employed. A couple of youth are working for Amazon Prime and FedEx,” she said. More than 70 young adults have gone through the program.
The county is looking to continue the Young Leaders Academy.
“I was so impressed by the students, they were there because they wanted to be there,” she said. “Some were in pretty difficult situations – working while taking the class. It was a different energy than adults. Their intentions and outcomes were wonderful.”